Weaponizers: A Failed Experiment in Special Effects
If you’re anything like me and someone tells you “hey there’s this new show coming to Discovery Channel that’s like BattleBots meets Twisted Metal” your response will either be “holy shit tell me more” or an uncomfortable erection (or both). A show of this caliber once existed… sort of… and it was called Weaponizers. Discovery Channel isn’t shy about the shows they produce because when they have an idea they will throw money at it until it rips apart at the seams even if it turns out to be total crap (see also: The Colony). Weaponizers was a show based around the idea that building gun-toting fighting machines is something that registers on the Scale of Badassery somewhere between “Dinosaurs With Jetpacks” and “Chuck Norris Jokes Circa 2001” and for all inclusive purposes, it does. If the reasoning behind the show sounds so awesome, then why am I bothering to write an article about it?
Because Weaponizers was a show that missed its mark so spectacularly its flaming descent from the heavens was a spectacle to behold by all.
For those who never got to experience the “joy” of Weaponizers here’s its colorful history. The show debuted on May 11th, 2009 to absolutely abysmal ratings, but prior to that regardless of what you were watching every commercial break for three months out had a plug for the vehicular combat extravaganza. Watching (Insert Sea Creature Here) Fishing: EXTREME? Cars with rocket launchers. Watching Jon & Kate: A Lesson In Contraceptives? Flaming pickup trucks with bulldozer scoops. Watching MythBusters? “From the producers of MythBusters comes Weaponizers.” The show was everywhere, and yes it was from the same producers of MythBusters so this has to be good right? MythBusters is legally obligated (by contract) to have no less than five catchphrases, two suggestive shots of Kari Byron, and eight explosions plus required instant replays per episode so boobies and Savage-isms aside Weaponizers looks to be a formidable and interesting contest. Too bad it was entirely staged, the execution of which was incredibly sloppy and poor.
The suspension of disbelief for something that’s most certainly too good to be true is a difficult thing to keep intact but you’d think with the zillions of dollars (approximated) at the disposal of Discovery Channel they could have done a better job.
In terms of failure the obvious choice would be to jump all over the stage pyrotechnics that took the place of actual bullets and explosives but before we jump into that I’d like to backpedal and discuss the cast of the show. Like any series based upon modifying cars for competition Weaponizers featured two teams of two builders, all of whom had some kind of “qualifications” to be on the show. The people building things on the show had a variety of credentials to their name including such vague accomplishments as “can build almost anything with wheels and drive it” and “has broken the land speed record”. Those are only two examples but honestly there’s issues with all of them, namely the land speed record one because it doesn’t specify the most important detail: “with what”? With the kind of oily gearheads they invited onto the show I can’t quite picture any of them sitting in an expensive rocket car that they cannot explain the physics of as it reaches Mach 1 in a desert lake bed so for all I know these jokers could have put on a pair of rollerskates and cruised down a particularly gnarly street, that’s a land speed record.
With the qualifications provided they may as well have listed “can make almost any kind of balloon animal out of any color balloon”, “once solved a Rubik’s cube using backwards video footage”, or even “has eaten at Wendy’s twice in one day”.
The most disappointing aspect of Weaponizers comes down to the very namesake of the show: the weapons. Rather than being comprised of gunpowder and sheer brute force the weapons attached to the cars operate approximately on equal parts smoke and mirrors. The producers made a huge deal about putting at least two machine guns on each car that can be used to open fire at whatever moves but for all of the hype not once in any of the three episodes of the show do you actually see the guns attached to the cars shoot. You hear them shoot by means of shitty stock sound effects but never once do you see any bullets, any spent casings, or any bullet holes. I’m not entirely sure how guns work in your fictional world but here in the third dimension when a fifty caliber bullet hits a rusty piece of metal roofing it leaves a fucking hole. Doom on the Super Nintendo can render bullet holes in walls but with the million-dollar budget of Weaponizers not one bullet hole is seen. Ever. A “spray of bullets” gets fired at specific targets in the battlefield and none of them, NONE OF THEM take any damage that isn’t triggered by a remote explosion that’s passed off as being set off by the teams’ magical weapons of sorcery.
So the bullets are 100% fake, that’s a huge let down yes, but there’s also an entire second set of weaponry that doesn’t consist of machine guns enchanted with a +5 Invisible Bullets perk. These weapons are all part of an arsenal custom-made by the teams and feature a number of fire-based, kinetic, and pneumatic devices. Ranging from an assortment of engine-powered spinning axes and saws to pneumatic harpoons and cleavers at the very least we can expect to see a snazzy jacked up demolition derby here, right?
Man, you are so fucking wrong.
If the fake guns were any hint, the actual physical weapons of the cars are equally as useless and fragile. Through creative use of camera angles a set of spinning axes and chains can look massive, an illusion which is further aided by showing footage of the Redneck Mobile 2000 tearing up small plywood (!!!) targets but when it’s fighting time only then do you see how much the weapon is dwarfed by its RV opponent (as well as after the weaponry breaks down after hitting a junk target). As a matter of fact all of the weapons are like that once some form of logic is applied to them. In one episode a team opts to have pneumatic harpoons that fire from the side of their van as a means to deal out some solid damage and when they are tested in the garage they look hellacious. Once they are thrown into “combat” though the pistons go flaccid and are never even used. To further my point the same team was also behind a pneumatic cleaver meant to swing out from the side of an ice cream truck and when it came time for the Carnage Round if the blade swung out any slower you could probably have luck making a playing card tower on it.
For weaponry that would make die hard Death Race 2000 fans cream their pants (sorry Jason Statham but your Death Race movie was pretty fucking awful) the phrase “its bark is worse than its bite” has never been more true.
Weaponizers was further crippled by shoddy editing that resulted in hilarious discontinuity in the episodes, especially the “battle” portions. In an effort to keep things action-packed at least in spirit the show utilizes lots and lots of jump cuts and alternate angles (going as far as to show three angles in five seconds in the chopping screenshot above) so viewers would be too distracted by the implied action to notice that whenever one car starts “shooting” the other one sits still either by virtue of “being stuck on debris” or just actually sitting there doing nothing. Blaming easy targets on debris is understandable but every time without fail once one car takes an imaginary ass beating of a lifetime it magically comes to life again and wouldn’t you know the other car stops moving so it can take its licks. I can only do so much by putting it into words because Lord only knows what you have a mental picture of right now so I’ve gone through the trouble of taking the “Carnage Round” from the premiere episode and, in stark violation of YouTube’s “DON’T UPLOAD THIS SHIT” rules, uploaded it onto YouTube.
At this point I’d like to remind you not only did this actually air on national television, it was also touted as “real vehicular combat”. Look at it. LOOK AT IT. I specifically chose this clip because I personally felt it epitomized just how motherfucking terrible the final product of this show was. To further drive my punchline I even created the Weaponizers Drinking Game. Take a shot of your favorite hard liquor every time you:
- See excessive computer animation used as filler.
- Hear dry commentary or panned out scripted dialogue from either team.
- See wide-angled shots to hide the lack of actual bullets firing.
- Hear bullets being fired while the camera is pointed elsewhere.
- See stage pyrotechnics passed off as “weaponry”.
- See a car “stalled” because it was “damaged”.
- See a weapon other than a gun not function properly.
- See the “Black Knight”. Actually, whenever it comes out onto the field just down the whole goddamn bottle. By this point it doesn’t even matter anymore.
I appreciate the effort that went into this show, I really do, but passing this off as real entertainment is just insulting. Scripted ballet between hulky men in tight underwear is one thing but doing it with entire vehicles is another thing far more precarious than ‘roid rage. What’s the problem in simply skipping all of the bullshit protect/destroy “objective” missions and letting people go hog wild with actual weaponry on a car? What, is Discovery Channel afraid of not having enough footage to fill a one hour timeslot? For fuck’s sake if you put real weapons on real cars and let them go at it you could fight for all fifteen seconds and people would be floored regardless. We don’t need to be spoon fed a bunch of bullshit passed off as being “real” only to see that the Black Knight is only a golf cart with a Batman cape and copious amounts of camera angles added for needless dramatic effect. Let it be an R/C demo derby and people will be happy.
In closing I’d like to mention doing research for this article wasn’t very easy because if you consult this list of every single program Discovery Channel has ever produced and/or aired you’ll notice that Weaponizers doesn’t even have its own page on Wikipedia but shows like Lobster Wars do. Not even Wikipedia gives a shit about Weaponizers and I’m speaking about a website with a community full of Asperger’s Syndrome folk who will meticulously detail every episode of even the absolute stupidest crap ever made. There’s not a single image macro available on the Internet that can encompass this amount of failure; when Wikipedia ceases to care about your television show it’s game over. Give up. Pull the plug.